People who are deafblind can be a valuable addition to your workplace. With just a few accommodations, based on an employee’s degree of vision and hearing, you can set your new hire – and your company – up for success. “Everybody’s human and wants to participate in work,” said Perkins School for the Blind spokesperson Jaimi Lard, who is deafblind. “Whether it’s a difference in skin color or a difference in disabilities, everybody wants to be part of the community.” Lard and interpreter Christine Dwyer offer some tips.
- Take advantage of outside resources: A person who is deafblind can request a job coach, orientation and mobility instructor or even technology – at no cost to your company – from an agency like the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind. “That way, an employee can get acclimated to work in a new environment,” said Dwyer, from setting up their workstation to learning their way around the office.
- Obtain the right technology: Your employee may use a screen magnifier or a refreshable braille display to do their work. Once you work together to figure out what he or she needs, you can set up this assistive technology to create an effective workspace.
- Communication is key: Whether it’s email, instant messaging or sign language, your employee will have a preferred way to convey his or her thoughts. Establish that up front so you can have clear lines of communication moving forward. Some employees who are deafblind may carry a phone or tablet to type on as they move around the office, for example. You may even have team members who learn to sign with a coworker who’s deafblind. “When my coworkers learn some sign language and communicate directly with me, it energizes me,” said Lard. “I feel more included.”
- Make all notifications accessible: Don’t just leave a box of goodies in the kitchen or post a sign on the bathroom door – use email or another accessible mode of communication to send a description of the pastries or the plumbing issue so everyone in the office knows what’s going on. “I don’t feel equal and I feel frustrated by barriers that are there by not having the information,” said Lard. “How would you feel if you went in and started using the bathroom and then you find out it’s broken?”
- Bring in an interpreter for presentations and gatherings: Whether it’s a retirement party or a company-wide announcement, make sure your employee has full access to the people presenting and the information presented. “There’s a social aspect – everyone wants to feel included,” said Dwyer. In addition to an interpreter, employers can also consider using Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART), which provides real-time captioning on a screen as well as a full transcription at the end of the event.